Local bakers dream up cakes for every occasion
Illustrations by Emma Gerigscott
I would be skipping my birthdays altogether if it weren’t for the cake. After all, what other time of the year lets us eat as much cake as we want without feeling guilty—OK, maybe less guilty?
So now that the last crumbs of this year’s birthday cake have been consumed, I decided to do a little research into how cakes came to be an important part of our celebrations for everything from graduations to weddings.
It turns out the Greeks started the whole thing when they baked a crescent-shaped cake and loaded it with candles in honor of Artemis, the goddess of the hunt and moon, according to Bethanne Patrick and John Thompson in their book An Uncommon History of Common Things (National Geographic, 2009). Wedding cakes also date back to ancient times, but were rather boringly made of wheat or barley with no frosting at all.
Thank goodness for the 21st century, where in Michiana we have a wonderful selection of cakes for all types of big events.
Elizabeth Van Herk’s first baking memories date back to when she was around 6 and making brownies and cookies with her mom.
Now the owner of Delizious Bakery in Plymouth, IN, Van Herk says she uses only the highest-quality ingredients to make such specialty items as custom-decorated cakes and sugar cookies, dog-friendly Pupcakes and first-birthday smash cakes. She also offers 70 flavors of from-scratch cupcakes and a wide variety of gourmet cookies and brownies, many of which she sells at the Plymouth Farmers Market.
“I personally am not a fan of artificial colors and flavors, so I do my best to keep those from my standard product unless requested,” she says. “I am currently researching natural food coloring with hopes of eliminating artificial colors completely. I also take pride in the freshness of my product. I begin baking each order within 24–48 hours of pickup, depending on what is ordered.”
Van Herk’s cakes tend toward the whimsical and elaborate. There are several three-tiered or higher brightly colored cakes in her shop as I talk to her: a rustic, woodland-themed baby shower cake with handmade animals and morel mushrooms; a fanciful many-layered cake with crystalized icicles emerging from the top, inspired by the movie Frozen; and a cake like the dress Belle wore in Beauty and the Beast, with yellow frosting draped with white pearls, its bottom covered with petals.“
Another thing I am very passionate about is the environment,” says Van Herk. “I take care when choosing my packaging and utensils so that they are as green and environmentally friendly as possible. I use compostable, 100% recycled paperboard boxes instead of plastic clamshells. For individual cupcake containers, I use fully compostable corn-derived plastic cups and lids. Even my forks, plates and plastic bags are biodegradable.”
With business booming, Courtney Hopkins, owner of C’est La Vie Cakes in South Bend, now is focusing only on making wedding cakes.
“It’s a several-day process with multiple steps that don’t include baking,” says Hopkins. Although she has always liked to bake, she only started C’est La Vie Cakes after being unable to find the wedding cake she wanted for her own nuptials.
Creating the perfect wedding cake begins with talking to the bride.
“Each bride is different, and some have very specific requests,” says Hopkins, whose husband, Brandon, does all the marketing, website management and social media for the business between helping out with decorating and delivery. “We make each cake from scratch using high-quality ingredients, and I design the cake so it’s just what the bride wants.”
Because she’s located in South Bend, Hopkins gets a lot of orders for—you guessed it—Notre Dame–themed wedding confections, often with the top layer shaped like the Golden Dome.
“It’s incredibly complex to make one,” says Hopkins, “but with each cake it gets easier.”
And indeed, looking at her photos of them, they look like works of art.
“A few of the common cakes we do include a tiered textured buttercream cake using Champagne, raspberries, white chocolate and strawberries, with fresh flowers intermittently arranged on tiers and on the top,” says Hopkins. “We also do a Notre Dame football helmet cake made of chocolate and chocolate ganache decorated with a handmade mask and Notre Dame logos.”
Hopkins says she makes so many cakes that she dreams about them at night, but that’s no problem.
“I love to eat my own sweets,” she says.
Layering it on
“What’s so awesome about cake is that it’s versatile,” Kelsey Morgan, self-described Martha Stewart addict and pastry chef at the Whistle Stop in Union Pier, MI, tells me as I taste her wonderful Endless Chocolate Cake, a seven-layer chocolate confection. “Cakes are so nostalgic but they also have the potential to be so surprising. They remind you of your birthday when you’re 12 but also can be so much more.”
Morgan, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in New York, previously worked with James Beard Award–winning chef Mindy Segal at Mindy’s HotChocolate, Segal’s restaurant in Chicago, where Segal helped her hone her baking skills. While there she also worked closely with chef Eva Frahm.
“I’d just a put in notice there and was going to Seattle,” Morgan says. But Frahm had taken the job as chef at the Whistle Stop, and while Morgan was hiking in the dunes of Southwest Michigan, Frahm persuaded her to come work with her.
Morgan says she’s always re-imagining cakes and prefers to make seven layers or more of cake, filling and frosting. She can take something like fresh Michigan blueberries and turn them into a blueberry pancake cake—a buttermilk batter with a brown butter custard filling and maple buttercream frosting.
“Then you pour Burton’s Maplewood Farm Bourbon Maple Syrup on it at the table,” she says, noting that Segal is a friend of Tim Burton, who owns Maplewood Farm in the tiny town of Medora in southern Indiana. Segal uses his syrup at her restaurant.
Summer strawberries inspired Morgan’s Strawberry Lemonade Cake—baked buttermilk sheets soaked in freshly made strawberry lemonade and topped with strawberry buttercream.
Each of her cakes is personal for Morgan.
“These cakes are like my babies,” she says. “That’s what I love to do.”
10702 SR 17
C’est La Vie Cakes
52832 Hill Trail
South Bend, IN
15700 Red Arrow Hwy.
15700 Red Arrow Hwy.
Union Pier, MI
Read Jane's Summer 2016 web-exclusive take on Bit of Swiss's Sachertorte here.